Original article (in Croatian) was published on 20/01/2023
Nenad Bakic and Gordan Lauc claim that Croatian doctors and scientists secretly work for large pharmaceutical companies. They offer no evidence for their claims.
The Croatian Association of Hospital Doctors (HUBOL) and the Croatian Medical Chamber (HLK) reacted strongly to the public statements of the controversial entrepreneur Nenad Bakic and the discredited scientist Gordan Lauc. We remind you that Lauc and Bakic regularly share disinformation related to the Covid-19 pandemic on their Facebook profiles.
“Through their continuous public appearances, Lauc and Bakic encouraged resistance to epidemiological measures, dissuaded citizens from vaccinating and influenced the authorities’ decisions in managing the epidemic. These two anti-vaxxer gurus thus, unfortunately, probably contributed to the high death rate from COVID-19 in Croatia”, HUBOL states and adds that through their public appearances, Bakic and Lauc “fueled existing fears among citizens, maliciously minimized the danger of COVID- 19 and incited citizens against doctors and scientists”.
With a similarly intoned statement, HLK also announced, which filed criminal charges against Bakic and Lauc for public incitement to violence and hatred. According to Article 325 of the Criminal Code, this criminal offence is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years.
“For more than two years, Lauc and Bakic have been collecting anti-vaxxer likes in a populist manner and encouraging citizens to fear vaccination. Their public appearances start a hunt for doctors and scientists and encourage anti-vaxxers to insult and threaten them. The ultimate goal of Lauc and Bakic is to intimidate scientists so that they will no longer speak publicly. This is how a society of violence is created, and the consequences of this pursuit are numerous posts on Facebook and comments on media web portals that contain serious insults and threats of violence against doctors and scientists. A number of doctors, members of the Chamber, received direct threats of violence in e-mails or on Messenger, as a result of the activities of Lauc and Bakić”, said HLK.
The “pandemic mafia” conspiracy theory
Gordan Lauc and Nenad Bakic responded to HUBOL’s and HLK’s statements through their Facebook posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and press releases (1, 2, 3) emphasizing the conspiracy theory they have been promoting for a long time. Namely, this entrepreneur-scientist duo claims that the “covid-cartel” (which they also describe with the terms “pandemic mafia” and “pandemic marketing”) is widespread among Croatian doctors and scientists.
“During the pandemic, some doctors acted as sales representatives of the pandemic industry and put their personal interests before the health of society. Now, when serious investigations into money flows have begun in the world, individuals are upset and are trying to silence all those who remind them of what they did”, said Gordan Lauc in response to HUBOL’s statement.
Bakic and Lauc have been promoting similar claims on Facebook since 2021: doctors and scientists who came forward publicly to warn of the danger posed to public health by the Covid-19 disease pandemic (which killed almost 18 thousand people in Croatia) are accused of being mercenaries of the pharmaceutical industry, i.e. that big pharma pays them for the unnecessary spread of panic so that citizens consume products such as vaccines, antigen tests and PCR tests in greater numbers.
However, Bakic and Lauc have never publicly presented any evidence for their claims, i.e. they have not shown anything that there are scientists and doctors in Croatia who are paid by the pharmaceutical industry to influence public opinion. Moreover, in their public statements, they regularly presented factually incorrect and unfounded information related to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine against Covid-19 and the effectiveness of non-pharmacological epidemiological measures that were used to suppress the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which Faktograf wrote about on several occasions (1, 2).
Real scandals of the pharmaceutical industry
The history of the pharmaceutical industry is indeed full of various scandals. Large pharmaceutical companies regularly pay millions in fines for illegal business practices, such as bribing doctors and misleading the public. Among the large pharmaceutical companies that have been punished for such practices throughout their history are GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson…
It has been established on several occasions that large pharmaceutical companies falsely represented the results of clinical research, all to maximize their own profits. Such behaviour of the pharmaceutical industry was regularly warned by scientists, doctors and journalists (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
One of the most famous scandals of the pharmaceutical industry is connected with the so-called pandemic of swine flu, a disease caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. It is a pandemic that was declared by the World Health Organization in the summer of 2009 and which ultimately significantly damaged the reputation of that international organization.
In 2010, the Council of Europe said that the World Health Organization, the health institutions of the European Union and national public health institutions are responsible for the poor management of the swine flu pandemic, i.e. for the unnecessary spending of a large amount of public funds and the spread of unfounded panic.
There have been public indications that the World Health Organization decided to declare a pandemic under pressure from people connected to pharmaceutical companies who wanted to sell as many of their products against “swine flu” as possible. Subsequent investigations found no evidence that WHO experts had done anything illegal or immoral, but the resulting reputational damage was beyond repair.
In the end, according to the official data of the World Health Organization, the “swine flu” killed a little less than 19 thousand people in the world. Subsequent research showed that the actual death toll was probably at least ten times higher. However, it is still a figure that does not deviate at all from the number of victims of the usual seasonal flu. It is estimated that between 2002 and 2011, the seasonal flu killed between 249 and 518 thousand people a year in the world.
It is also known that the pharmaceutical industry made huge profits thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is why reputable international organizations called them out for profiting from the crisis that hit the world (1, 2). There was frequent criticism that it was the greed of the pharmaceutical industry that made it impossible to promptly end the Covid-19 pandemic. Namely, the manufacturers of vaccines against Covid-19 refused public appeals to give up the intellectual property of vaccines against Covid-19 and thus enable their free production in the poor countries of the so-called global south. If the pharmaceutical companies had agreed to waive the rights they have under their vaccine patents, the world population could have been vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus much faster, potentially preventing the virus from mutating and ending the pandemic.
However, the mere fact that the history of the pharmaceutical industry is filled with scandals and marked by greed cannot serve as proof that pharmaceutical companies in Croatia or anywhere else during the Covid-19 pandemic have bribed doctors or scientists to spread panic and promote their products. The history of the activities of big pharma shows us that such a thing is theoretically possible, but serious accusations such as those made by Bakic and Lauc still require concrete evidence. As expressed by the famous words of Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.